Cam Do? Cam Won't. Reality Check In Store For Newton, Panthers.Posted:Sep 16th, 2011 4:25 pm
You could argue that the best thing that happened to the Packers last Sunday was Cam Newton'e eye-opening, jaw-dropping 422 yard performance at Arizona. It was a historic debut and erased any possibility that the Pack might look past the Panthers and ahead to their date with the Bears at Soldier Field next Sunday.
You can bet it got Dom Capers' attention too. He's had ten days to prepare for this one, and seven after watching tape of Newton's first game. Let's look at the big picture: Cam is going to be a star in this league. He has it all and excels in big moments. He hadn't lost a game in nearly two years before Sunday. He'll lose a lot more this season, but this is a team that will see double-digit wins within a couple of years.
The Panthers game plan will be simple. Make good use of one of the league's best four-legged rushing attacks and feed DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart early and often. The problem is, if the Packers get ahead (and they have a huge edge against Carolina's defense), then they have to rely on Newton's arm and legs. What he will see across the line on Sunday will look a lot different from one Arizona presented. Capers will start out in his conventional 3-4 defense, with Howard Green joining Raji and Pickett up front. In the opener, the Pack went with two down linemen often, because Brees and the Saints were airing it out.
Look for Carolina to be forced to work the left side offensively; they're without solid right tackle Jeff Otah (concussion) and will line up undrafted rookie Byron Bell to replacehim. Byron, meet Clay. Clay-Byron. Enough said. Steve Smith showed last week that he is one of the most talented wide receivers in the league when he has a capable QB. There is no one opposite him, though, so defenses can try to take him out and make Newton find his tight ends.
Greg Olson came over via trade to play the role of Antonio Gates in the San Diego-style offense the Panthers are using. We've seen his ability for years and he has to be thrilled to be out of the clutches of Mike Martz. Along with veteran Jeremy Shockey, Newton has a couple of capable security blankets in the middle of the field. The Packers will make sure those guys are covered.
Capers will throw different looks at Newton on every play. He'll disguise coverages and move guys around to confuse the rookie and force him into mistakes. I have the over under on interceptions at 2 1/2 and I'm taking the over. A defensive touchdown may be in the cards this week--for some reason, it feels like Morgan Burnett to me.
Offensively, the Pack should have its way. Ron Rivera was brought in to make over the Panthers defense, but there's a reason the team he inherited only won two games last season. Since letting Julius Peppers last year, their pass rush is marginal and they rely on rookies at both defensive tackle spots. To top it off, they lost their leader and best defensive player for the season last weekend. Middle linebacker Jon Beason blew out his achilles. Corner Chris Gamble should be entering his ninth season as a Packer corner (remember, we took Ahmad Carroll instead. I was screaming at the TV to take Gamble that draft day). He's still solid, but the rest of the secondary screams mediocre.
Expect the Pack to attack through the air and to carve up yardage on the ground. I have a feeling Finley and Starks are two most productive players this week. If I were McCarthy, I'd keep James Jones on the sidelines for much of this one as penance for whining about his playing time to a Milwaukee radio station. Whine to the coaches, your teammates---not to the media after one game.
McCarthy is 5-0 in road openers and nothing should change after Sunday. It feels like Pack 34 Carolina 14.
For much more on this game, tune in to "Packer Preview" this Sunday at 8am on KFAN 100.3 FM in the Twin Cities and at kfan.com.